Employee Fatigue: Hurting Your Business Ethics? - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
IT Leadership // IT Strategy
Commentary
9/15/2014
09:20 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
100%
0%

Employee Fatigue: Hurting Your Business Ethics?

If you really want an ethical company, encourage your employees to adopt good sleep habits and give more work breaks.

10 IT Job Interview Phrases To Make You Run
10 IT Job Interview Phrases To Make You Run
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Leaders claim they want their workers to be ethical, but if they really mean it they'll give them more breaks. The connection between lack of sleep and poor ethics has been known for a while, but fatigue can take its toll on a worker in mere hours as well. If you want a more ethical team, address both long-term sleep and day-to-day work habits.

A 2013 study conducted by Christopher Barnes of Foster School of Business measured the effect of lack of sleep on ethical behavior. A test group was asked to participate in a trivia challenge for a prize of $50. All players were given an obvious chance to cheat on the test without being detected. The group of cheaters and non-cheaters were then asked about their sleep habits. It turned out that the non-cheaters slept more. Not a huge amount more -- an average of just 22.5 minutes. But that time might be crucial in a sleep-deprived culture.

There is a physical reason for this. Barnes points out that our self-control comes from the pre-frontal cortex of our brain. The pre-frontal cortex runs on glucose and glucose is diminished by lack of sleep. Maybe those Snickers commercials about people not being themselves when they're hungry are true.

Here's the scary part: 30% of Americans and 40% of managers average fewer than six hours of sleep a night. Sleep loss is an epidemic in the country, which means your team -- and your company -- is at risk daily.

[Find out what those Craigslist job ads really mean. Read 15 Tech Job Descriptions, Translated.]

Of course, you can only do so much about your employee’s sleep habits. What you can fix is their daily work habits. And it looks like you need to. A new study to appear in the Journal of Applied Psychology and featured currently in the Harvard Business Review followed health professionals to see how well they complied with hand hygiene policies.

The study showed an alarming statistic. Even at the beginning of shifts when workers were fresh, only 42.6% were in hygiene compliance. That number dwindled after just a few hours on shift and settled at a rate of 34.8% at the end of a shift. It is bad enough that health professionals couldn't be bothered to wash their hands when they were fresh, but as the day went on and they became increasingly contaminated, things got worse.

The good news is the study showed that longer breaks during shifts and between shifts allowed workers to come back more refreshed and more compliant. This bodes well for the idea that in an office setting more frequent breaks, not to mention more vacation time, will help your workers be more ethical.

There's more. Managers are also at fault for the types of environments they create. Three of Barnes' colleagues at Foster School of Business decided to take a deeper look at sleep deprivation and ethics and found an interesting side note -- it is possible to be too tired to cheat. They examined people in case of extreme mental or physical fatigue (tax preparers in tax season, mentally taxed students, and perhaps most interestingly, people asked to write about themselves without using the letters “a” or “n”) to study the impact on cheating. These are what the researchers call classic “ego deflating moments” that prey on the brain and make people feel fatigued mentally or physically.

They found that when there is an overwhelming social stigma against a certain type of cheating, being tired actually made a person less likely to do it. People simply didn't have the bandwidth to reason over cheating. They went with the socially accepted action.

In other words, managers can still protect themselves from bad ethical decision made during moments of stress or fatigue if they create a culture of ethics. If the perceived penalty for transgression is high, stressed employees will revert to following along when tired.

Of course, you are better off giving your employees ample breaks anyway. They'll be more productive, happier, and probably consciously make better ethical decisions. That's better than having a zombie fall in line.

What do you think? Have you seen the connection of fatigue and ethics in your own life? At work? How do you deal with it? Share your comments.

Apply now for the 2015 InformationWeek Elite 100, which recognizes the most innovative users of technology to advance a company's business goals. Winners will be recognized at the InformationWeek Conference, April 27-28, 2015, at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Application period ends Jan. 9, 2015.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
<<   <   Page 2 / 2
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/16/2014 | 5:17:08 PM
Re: fatigue and parenthood
@SaneIT- And there's the problem. No one person should be so important that every time zone relies on them. How do we solve this problem? More hiring? More cross training? Teaching people to be more independent? This can't be good for anyone. 
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/16/2014 | 5:12:01 PM
Re: Employee Fatigue
@zerox203- Well said. I think part of the problem in IT is that perosn you mentioned working late on a Friday night is treated like a hero. I'd like to see a manager treat the people who go home on time like a hero. Sometimes we all have to stay late to finish something, but the real hero is the person who finishes their work in their normal time. 
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/16/2014 | 5:07:42 PM
Re: fatigue and parenthood
@danielcawrey- I think the worst part is that many companies don't give employees a choice. The work load simply requires working past reasonable time. It has been show repeatedly that productivity in knowledge workers goes significantly after about 6 hours. Very few knowledge workers are capable of knocking off then, though. 

Hiring more (good) workers and having them all work fewer hours is probably the best thing a company can do for itself, but the worst thing it can do for its stock. It is sad.
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/16/2014 | 5:02:27 PM
Re: HALT
@susan- I love HALT. I've never heard it before. Can't say I make too many decisions while angry or lonely. I probably make a large number of my decisions while hungry or tired. Maybe i'll need to reconsider. I wonder though if there is ever a point in my existence where I'm not one of those four, especially hungry. :)
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/16/2014 | 4:47:47 PM
Re: Hangry
@Susan- Do you get more like Betty White or Bobcat Goldthwaite? My favorite of those Snickers ads was always the one by the late, great Robin Williams. 
Joe Stanganelli
50%
50%
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
9/16/2014 | 2:44:46 AM
Re: HALT
@Susan: I feel like I might not ever get anything done if I took that advice!  :p

Seriously, though, I do definitely put off most communicative tasks if I'm in a bad mood -- lest I say something I shouldn't!
Susan_Nunziata
100%
0%
Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
9/15/2014 | 8:10:20 PM
HALT
The best career advice I ever got was to use HALT as a guideline as to whether it was the right time to make an important decision. Here's how it works: ask yourself "Am I Hungry Angry Lonely or Tired?" If you're any of those things, then HALT (see what I did there?) and take care of your own human needs before making that important decision.
Susan_Nunziata
100%
0%
Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
9/15/2014 | 8:07:15 PM
Hangry
This was eye-opening Dave (pun intended). I honestly never considered a connection between fatique and ethics, though i'm a firm believer that getting sufficient amounts of sleep and eating well help you perform at your best no matter at work or at home.

I can vouch for the fact that the Snickers commercials are spot-on. I am definitely NOT myself when I'm hungry, and have seen plenty of "hangry" behavior in myself and others.

In the interest of being a good employee, I'm going to eat a Snickers and have a nap now...
David Wagner
IW Pick
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/15/2014 | 7:29:59 PM
Re: fatigue and parenthood
@Thomas- You don't fighting it by forcing your people to sleep. You fight it by giving them the opportuniy to rest both during and away fromt he job.
Thomas Claburn
0%
100%
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
9/15/2014 | 4:32:34 PM
fatigue and parenthood
The problem with companies fighting fatigue is that creates a reason to discriminiate against new parents, for whom fatigue is unavoidable.
<<   <   Page 2 / 2
InformationWeek Is Getting an Upgrade!

Find out more about our plans to improve the look, functionality, and performance of the InformationWeek site in the coming months.

News
Pandemic Responses Make Room for More Data Opportunities
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  5/4/2021
Slideshows
10 Things Your Artificial Intelligence Initiative Needs to Succeed
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  4/20/2021
News
Transformation, Disruption, and Gender Diversity in Tech
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  5/6/2021
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Video
Current Issue
Planning Your Digital Transformation Roadmap
Download this report to learn about the latest technologies and best practices or ensuring a successful transition from outdated business transformation tactics.
Slideshows
Flash Poll